Cook County wages silent battle against Illinois cottage food
SPRINGFIELD — A new state law makes it easier for home cooks to sell their breads, pies, jellies and other goods at farmers markets, as long as they register with the local government and label their food uncertified.
But the Cook County Department of Public Health isn’t taking registrations, citing an ambiguity in the Illinois Local Food Entrepreneur and Cottage Food Operation Act, which requires “a unit of local government” to take registrations, not necessarily the local health department.
“It's not our responsibility to take on additional work unnecessarily,” said Sean McDermott, spokesman for the health department and a county alderman.
The department has asked the state’s attorney to determine if vendors should instead register with one of the 100-plus municipalities and towns within the county. The health department has received and turned down about 10 vendor registration applications, McDermott said.
Throughout the state, public health departments and local governments have taken the registrations without a fuss, said Wes King, policy director for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a local food advocacy group. Cook County’s reluctance is bureaucratic shuffling and seems somewhat vindictive, he said.
“It seems that they've made it personal,” King said. “I think they don't like the law in general.”
McDermott, who initially lobbied against the bill but later withdrew opposition, said the original concern was that products would be made in an unhealthy manner, causing illness and disease.
Some say that concern is misplaced.
“Why these small cottage industries need so much oversight boggles the mind,” said Roxanne Junge, a retired teacher who manages the Glenview Farmers Market. “I think there's a misunderstanding that something that comes out of your kitchen is going to be less safe.”
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